Robert Wise: David, the urgency is growing in Mississippi to get people vaccinated. Dr. Dobbs says Delta is now “all the transmission within the state of Mississippi”. Axios reports new cases in the state doubled this past week (320 per day to 660). Only 38% of Mississippians have taken the first dose. We are far from the herd immunity threshold of 70% to get back to normal. Watching the vaccination charts is like watching paint dry: less than a tenth of a percent of Mississippians are vaccinated a day. No wonder Delta is racing through the unvaccinated.
David Dzielak: It is no longer a smoldering smoke line. It is a brush fire spreading through the unvaccinated like kindling that will head into the trees this autumn and winter. The chart of covid cases in Mississippi as we speak is a line straight up. Mississippi just reached number six on the chart of state case rates with cases up 241% over the past two weeks. If you’ve noticed, Dr. Fauci, Dr. Dobbs and all in authority are saying they are worried about the vulnerability of Mississippi’s largely unvaccinated population.
Robert Wise: I worry looking at the case and vaccination charts published daily. What about hospitalizations?
David Dzielak: In two weeks in July hospitalizations increased 189%, and the number of covid patients in Mississippi ICUs increased 294% (NYT). Dr. Dobbs tweeted that there are “11 major ICU’s with zero beds available”. He also said: “I’m frustrated. I am mad. I’m upset. I’m depressed because we’re going to watch people needlessly die.”
Robert Wise: Dobbs is a doctor who cares. What do you see in the counties?
David Dzielak: Hinds, which in June had one of the lowest infection case rates, now ranks 3rd from the top (+270% in two weeks), Rankin County is 12th (up +172% in two weeks), but Madison, among the best for vaccinations, is in the middle in cases (but up +226%). There are concerning hot spots also in Stone, Covington, Adams, and Lauderdale counties (NYT).
Robert Wise: How are young children affected?
David Dzielak: The CDC has determined that four times as many children die from covid as from seasonal flu. Mississippi has kids in ICU. It is important unvaccinated children wear masks.
Robert Wise: Well, give me some good news, David. There must be some good news.
David Dzielak: There is good news in the leadership of Dr. LouAnn Woodward. Dr. Woodward is the Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs at UMMC and Dean of the School of Medicine. Dr. Woodward announced July 16 she is implementing a vaccine mandate for UMMC employees, contractors, and students. That is good news because with a vaccine mandate she is meeting the crisis head on, facing up to the challenge posed by Delta.
Robert Wise: She is our Boudica, her sword raised against Delta. What is her plan?
David Dzielak: Through November 1, UMMC’s 10,000 employees, contractors, and students, have a simple choice: get the vaccine or wear a N95 mask on campus. No later than November 1, or whenever the FDA switches to permanent vaccine authorizations, the option to wear a mask goes away and vaccination becomes the mandate.
Robert Wise: A deadline is a motivator. On the legal front, UMMC can take comfort from the July 13 decision of a US District Judge in Indiana. The judge refused to enjoin the University of Indiana’s vaccination mandate affecting 90,000 students, faculty, and employees on several campuses. As the University said, their vaccination plan “is designed for the health and well-being of our students, faculty and staff.” That’s hard to argue with in front of a Judge.
David Dzielak: Yes, and the mandates cut through all the covid misinformation to focus people on what is true. What is true is that their employers and educators have the overriding duty to maintain the health, safety and welfare of their workplaces and campuses. Almost all employees and students will understand that. My hope is that the presidents of the University of Mississippi, Mississippi State, University of Southern Mississippi, and the other universities and colleges follow UMMC’s lead.
Robert Wise: An article appearing just below ours last week carried an alarming headline: “Covid Vaccine Not Safe”. Got a response?
David Dzielak: The vaccines are safe. The FDA, CDC and overwhelming majority of the medical community attest to their safety. Over 187 million people in the US have received at least one dose of the vaccines, and over 339 million doses have been given. Nothing is 100% in life but the statistical safety record for the vaccines is very, very good. Mississippi’s Chief Medical Officer Daniel Edney is clear: “we are not seeing long-term side effects”. The alarming article cited the claims of two anti-vaxxers, Steve Kirsch and Dr. Robert Malone. About 10 minutes on the internet will show you those two gentlemen, who have appeared together, have been extensively fact checked for false or misleading claims or misuse of VAERS reporting and other data.
Robert Wise: Now you have the words ringing in my ears from the old Prayer Book of my youth: “And there is no health in it”.
David Dzielak: Yes, and “do no harm”. Look. Let’s not get distracted. Let’s not play whack-a-mole with every outlier anti-vaxxer out there with contrived data. Let’s stay focused on urging Mississippians to get vaccinated. Let’s urge state, educational and business leaders to implement vaccine mandates to clear the path to normal. You and I cannot get back to normal until everybody gets back to normal. That means mandates plus each of us asking our family, friends, and associates to get vaccinated. Let’s focus on the brush fire in front of us before it reaches the trees.
Robert Wise: Thank you, David.
David Dzielak is the former Director of Mississippi Medicaid. Robert Wise is a Northsider.